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Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

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Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby LMBSGV » Sat Jan 05, 2013 1:04 pm

My wife and I have wanted to go to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks for many years. We decided we’ve waited long enough and so to celebrate our 40th anniversary, we’re going mid-June to July. To some extent, we’re adopting the “first-time tourist, greatest hits” approach. We’ll either be car camping or staying in lodges and not backpacking. With our time limited, we’ve decided to day-hike and not deal with the additional planning logistics and extra equipment for a backpacking trip. We’ll save backpacking for (hopefully) a future trip.

The only day hikes that are definite are the Old Faithful Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Falls/Canyon and Mt. Washburn (yes, we know these will be overcrowded, but it’s once in a lifetime). Our itinerary is planned in terms of where we’re staying each night, but otherwise we’re open to any day hike suggestions and tips. Also, we welcome any tips on park stores and restaurants in terms of which store has the best camping food selection and which restaurants are worth patronizing or avoiding. Our day hike length limit is about 8-10 miles round trip, though if it’s fairly level, we’re willing to stretch it.

Also, while our route from the SF Bay Area to Tetons/Yellowstone is set, I’m uncertain about the best way from Glacier back to the Bay Area. We’ll have two days, but maps don’t give any indication of the differences between US95 and I80, US93-I80, or US93-US395-I5. (I do not trust Google maps indicated driving times.) Outside of I5, I’ve never driven any of the highways, at least in those areas, so have no idea on the balance between nice scenery and speed of travel.

Here’s our tentative itinerary:

Lizard Creek Campground, Tetons: 2 nights. This is a first-come campground but doesn’t seem to fill on weeknights. It seems quieter and more out of the way than the other campgrounds. Beside gazing at the view of the Tetons across Jackson Lake, we don’t have any plans. Is there a lakeside trail and/or loop for a dayhike near Lizard Creek?

Bridge Bay Campground, Yellowstone Lake: 1 night (we have a reservation with a request for E,F,G,H or I loops). We want to see the lake, but are open to short hike suggestions.

Norris Campground: 3 nights. This is a first-come campground, but we’re planning to get there mid-morning on a weekday. The campsites here seem to be better spread out and thus offer more privacy than Madison or Canyon. We’ll use Norris as a central location for day hiking Old Faithful Geyser Basin and other places — the guide books contain too many great sounding possibilities. Any suggestions?

Canyon Lodge Frontier Cabin (have reservation): 2 nights. We’ll day-hike Yellowstone Falls/Canyon.

Roosevelt Lodge Roughrider Cabin (have reservation): 2 nights. We'll hike up Mt. Washburn in the morning on the way there. Again, the guide books contain too many great possibilities. Suggestions?

Sprague Creek Campground on Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park: 3 nights. This is another first-come campground, but the Glacier Park website chart says it doesn’t fill on weeknights. Possible day hikes include Avalanche Lake and the Gunsight Pass trail. Suggestions?

Swiftcurrent Motor Inn Cabin (have reservation): 3 nights. The Many Glacier campground looks very large and overcrowded so we opted to stay in one of the cabins. We’re planning on doing a day-hike in the Logan Pass area on the way to Many Glacier, but are unsure which one — any suggestions? Possible day-hikes in the Many Glacier area include Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Lake/Glacier. Any suggestions, especially for trails that may not be snowed in (Grinnell Glacier may not be possible due to ice/snow)?

Thanks in advance for all your suggestions/ideas.



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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby BrianF » Sat Jan 05, 2013 1:51 pm

My son and I were just camping in Yellowstone last summer in mid July - lots of wildflowers. Your itinerary sounds good to me. Norris is a nice campground but hard to get into, we didn't. We didn't go to any stores or restaurants so can't help you there.
We hiked Mt Washburn from the Chittenden rd trailhead and it was busy, but as you say; once in a lifetime and it was beautiful. Don't expect much solitude anywhere in the park unless you get well away from the roads. I suggest spending time at Hayden Valley for wildlife watching. We went there a couple of evenings until dark (You'll have long evenings, stays light late up there)and saw a huge herd of bison moms and calves, lots of lone bull bison, elk, coyote and wolves just before dark. Bring binos or, better yet, a spotting scope. Lamar Valley was also nice - saw alot of Bison and some Pronghorns. Never saw any bears the whole time, dang it.
We also stayed at Lizard creek and it was great and it was no problem getting a site. I don't recall if there were trails in that area, we dayhiked near Jenny Lake, but we did swim in the lake at Lizard creek in lieu of a shower.
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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby DriveFly44 » Sat Jan 05, 2013 2:02 pm

I will second the suggestion for the lamar valley. One of my favorites in the area. There are hiking trails that go into the lamar canyon and back so you can taylor it to your liking. It's a little out of the way but worth a look.


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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby Fly Guy Dave » Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:05 pm

If the flows are low enough, you might try and wet a line in the Lamar or if you're there after July 15th, the Yellowstone will be open. Both have nice populations of Yellowstone Cutthroat trout.

I'd also recommend the Lamar for a evening binocs or spotting scope session. If you're lucky, you might see some of the members of the Slough Creek Pack of wolves. We weren't so lucky, but it wasn't from lack of trying. However, we did see a mother grizz and her three cubs in Hayden Valley. Man, she was INTIMIDATING.

If you're taking I-90 from Yellowstone to Glacier, make a stop at Rock Creek, just south of Clinton, Montana and fish the evening hatch. That is SUCH a great fishery!

Once you're in Glacier, of course you have to a SLOW drive of the Going to the Sun Road and at the summit I'd suggest you take a hike on the Highline Trail or the Hidden Lake Overlook Trial. Solitude? No, not really, but the views are some of the best I've ever seen in any mountain range anywhere. Views both east and west as you are walking along the Continental Divide. Amazing.
Glacier is not as big as Yellowstone, but not as populated either and the best way to see it is off the roads on the trails. Bring your can of bear spray, though! The fishing in the park was best described as "meh..." but I still caught some fish, just not as many or as big as I would've preferred.

As far as heading back, I would take 93 back down south from Glacier and then hit 90 west. Take that all the way into Washington and then eventually you'll 5 and then it's all south from there. 90 and 5 are Interstates and so you'll be able to maintain a consistent rate of higher speed, unlike the winding, circuitous secondary highways, many of which are serviced in the summer, only adding to the slowness. More scenic, but slower.

So many good places to go, but you covered a lot of 'em, and here are a few others, fly fishing advice as a bonus. Have a great trip!
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Some pics of native salmonids: http://flyguydave.wordpress.com/
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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby oldranger » Sat Jan 05, 2013 7:40 pm

LMBSGV

Consider regularly checking the Website for Sperry Chalet for one or more of your nights scheduled for Sprague Creek. Keep a lookout for cancellations. A great place to stay. Great staff. Mt. goats, maybe a griz. Spectacular scenery. The more nights you can get the better.

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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby dave54 » Sat Jan 05, 2013 9:28 pm

Went to Glacier a couple years ago in June. The road was still closed by snow past the loop, and gated way at the bottom. We biked the road, and had it all to ourselves. No vehicles forcing us to the shoulder, no diesel fumes -- it was great!

I am trying to arrange an April/May trip to Yellowstone and do the same -- bike the roads before they are open to the hordes.
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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby PatrickQuin » Sat Jan 05, 2013 9:50 pm

It looks like you have a pretty informed plan, and a lot of good information here already. I have a small tip that may seem somewhat obvious. Try and hit the popular boardwalk trails at sundown and sun up. There are a lot of people! After several days of frustration I started planing my hikes around where i wanted to start and end my day. Often making dinner mid afternoon, then setting out for a golden hour tour. The number of people would drop phenomenally come late afternoon. And of course the mornings are always quiet as well. The places i really remember, and feel I experienced were the ones I visited in beautiful light, washed in silence.

And I too have to suggest Lamar Valley. I watched the absolute circle of life before my eyes there one morning.

It's a remarkable place. I have given serious thought to going back each summer since. Enjoy it.
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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Sun Jan 13, 2013 12:10 pm

I've done the tourist thing on the west side of Yellowstone Park many times as my family has a cabin just outside the park in eastern Idaho. I think you have the right idea—just do the "greatest hits" and deal with the crowds.

I'd suggest you have lunch at Old Faithful Lodge. The food is good (not spectacular, but good) and you can usually catch Old Faithful either before or after the meal. Plus, the lodge itself is amazing and worth checking out.

Day hiking from the lodge, you can take the trail through Geyser Hill and keep going past the Morning Glory pool up to Biscuit Basin and then loop back to the lodge on the Continental Divide Trail. This gives you a great cross section of this area and the tourists drop off significantly the farther you get from parking areas. I did this hike with my ex-wife and on parts of the trail it was just us and the buffalo.

Grand Prismatic Spring and Fountain Paint Pots are also worth a look on that side of the park if you're doing the driving tour. Park, do a small hike around the area, then move on to the next one.

If you head out the west entrance, West Yellowstone is a tourist town, plain and simple. It has the requisite tchotchke shops but also a few good tackle shops, a grocery store, and a good size hardware store if you need supplies. Ernie's Bakery & Deli is a good spot for a sandwich. I'd avoid the Grizzly Center and IMAX on the south side of town. If you head from West up to Ennis, the 287 runs parallel to a great section of the Madison River—might be worth fishing for a bit.

As for the drive home, if you have the time, consider driving across eastern Oregon on Highway 20. It's desolate, but beautiful. Not many services, so not the place you want to break down or run out of gas.

Hope this helps—have a great trip!
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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby LMBSGV » Sun Jan 13, 2013 1:31 pm

Thanks everyone for the incites from your experiences and suggestions.

BrianF, thanks for the Lizard Creek confirmation and Hayden Valley, and with FlyGuy44, FlyGuyDave, and PatrickQuin for the Lamar Valley recommendation. We were planning on Hayden Valley and will try to get to Lamar, too. And it’s good to get confirmation about the crowds decreasing at twilight, Patrick. It’s our favorite time of day and so we always take a walk at that time with me taking photos and her writing notes for poems.

FlyGuyDave also thanks for the Logan Pass hike suggestions. We’ve been up and down I5 a lot of times and so we’re looking for something new on the way home. Taking Highway 20 to 395 was one of the ideas I had. Carne delMuerto, can we make good time on 20? We like driving desolate highways and since we have a new Prius V, I’m not worried about running out of gas.

Mike, we thought about Sperry Creek Chalet, but it’s not scheduled to open until after we’re gone.

And thanks Carne delMuerto for all the incites on hikes and places. Since we are hoping to camp at Norris, we were planning to spend a day driving down to Old Faithful and back. It’s good to know the crowds get much less when one takes the longer hike through Geyser Hill and Continental Divide trail - that was our tentative plan. Then we can hit Grand Prismatic Spring and Fountain Paint Pots on the way back to Norris.

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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Sun Jan 13, 2013 2:05 pm

LMBSGV wrote:Taking Highway 20 to 395 was one of the ideas I had. Carne delMuerto, can we make good time on 20? We like driving desolate highways and since we have a new Prius V, I’m not worried about running out of gas.


I should say I made the drive close to 20 years ago as I was heading from Boise to Klamath Falls, so forgive me as I don't remember the entire stretch. Back then it was just a simple two-lane road that followed the contours of the land—not something you could barrel along at 80mph like the interstate. I believe I took 20 to 395 to 140 (and the 50-60 miles before Lakeview were stop and go as I helped a family limp along as their car was breaking down). I'd only do the drive if you don't mind the slower pace. The beauty of the area has always stuck with me since that drive and I hope to go back one day with more time to explore. Heck, driving across 20 and then spending a night in Bend would be great as well. The 97 south from there to I-5 can be a very quick drive—you just have to be careful as Oregon has lower speed limits on those roads. I made that drive last summer and plowed down the road just keeping an eye out for OSP.

Edit: I also wanted to warn you about Yellowstone traffic jams. Most (if not all) of the roads are just two lanes, so when some wildlife is near the road, everyone slows down or pulls over, causing a back-up. You also tend to see a few Darwin Award candidates as people run across the road without looking and get too close to the animals.
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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby oldranger » Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:21 pm

Larry

I am a frequent traveler between Bend and Boise. There are two options I would consider in heading home if you are interested in making good time.

1. I-84 to Ontario then 20 to 395 to Lake View. Between Vale and Juntura 20 follows the Malheur River. Though 55 zone (all rural roads in Oregon, except interstates are) I set the cruise control in the Prius to 62 and ease off a little on a couple of curves. After Juntura sight lines improve an I reset the Cruise Control to 69. I have been "caught" by radar several times by state police with no interest. (My son in law got stopped but no citation at 71). There is always a chance of a county mountie having a different standard (one did turn around and follow me a couple of miles but I slowed down and he lost interest). It is really strange but I have never traveled 395 between 20 and a few miles n. of Valley Falls. But it will be a combo of sagebrush, relatively low ranges, and some volcanic terrain. The Abert basin should have some water this year. On the opposite side of the highway is Hart Mt. Wildlife refuge and there is the possibility of spotting some Big Horn in the area. The campground at the refuge with a nice hot spring is about 40 minutes off the Highway
Hart Mt.jpg
Hart Mt. Hot Spring
and you have a good chance of viewing significant numbers of Pronghorn.
Pronghorn.jpg
Pronghorn at Hart Mt. Refuge
(The Prius can handle the well graded road to the campground/hot spring but some campsites might be inaccessible)

140 from Lakeview to Kfalls is an interesting road but not the only alternative you have after Lakeview.

Plan b on this route would be to stay on 20 and pub crawl in bend! (let me know if you chose this and if we are home would be happy to show you around and lift a few!)

2. Even more remote than 20/395 is highway 95. Going through Jordan Valley and the Pillars of Rome near the Owyhee River is really neat.
Rome.jpg
Some of Rome Formations


You really have to appreciate basin and ranges in Eastern Oregon and N. Nevada.

Oh yes. Consistently the cheapest gas in the NW is Boise so fill up there. If heading w. on 20 top off at the Sinclair station in Vale (I know only 1 gallon or so but it will be at least .20 per gallon less than anyplace else in Oregon outside of Portland and they have clean restrooms. (my wife gets really pissed :o if she has to squat beside the car). Needless to say it can get hot in this desert country in the summer and really, really cold in the winter. I always carry my Spot Locator with the road service option as cell service is intermittent at best.

Cheers

Mike
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Re: Yellowstone/Glacier National Parks hints/suggestions?

Postby dave54 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 8:25 pm

in line with oldranger's post...

If you go through the Hart Mtn Refuge, the road is unpaved to French Glen, but good bladed gravel. I pulled a 26' RV trailer enroute to the Steen Mtns a few years ago, with no problem. We stayed a couple days at the Warner Wetlands and did some paddling. Here is a write up I did for Paddling.net:

http://www.paddling.net/places/showReport.html?1858

The Steens are an interesting side trip too, with the adjacent wildlife refuge. A very nice BLM campground in French Glen. The Steens are a unique mountain range -- densely forested, but no conifers. Nothing but aspen from the sagebrush steppe to the timberline -- tens of thousands of acres of continuous pure aspen forest. We also took a side trip to see the Kiger horse herd -- that road is definitely NOT a Prius road. Unmaintained dirt with ruts, rocks, and crawling, it was over an hour of 4wd to get from the pavement to the horse overlook, and then a short hike. (the Kiger herd is reportedly an isolated pure strain of the original Spanish horses, no genetic intermixing with other feral horse breeds).

There is a lot to see and do enroute to Glacier or Yellowstone. Seems to me a shame to pass up some great spots to spend a few days because of a destination fixation. Take a couple extra days vacation and enjoy the journey.
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